Lift Kits Vs. Leveling Kits
What is a lift kit, is there more than one? What is a leveling kit? Which one is going to allow me to get bigger tires? If I buy one do I have to go to a mechanic to install it? You might’ve asked yourself some of these same questions when contemplating your next vehicle modification. I know here at DST a few of these questions have crossed our minds, so we thought we’d lend a helping hand to anyone else out there who was scratching their heads.
Both lift kits and leveling kits are designed to raise the body of the vehicle away from its axles to fit larger tires and to possibly increase the overall ground clearance of your vehicle, but let’s dive a little deeper and find out what makes each kit tick.
WHAT ARE THEY?
Body Lift Kits will raise your vehicle’s ride height between 1-3 inches; this is accomplished by lifting the body of the vehicle up off its frame through the placement of blocks or spacers. Suspension Lift Kits are designed to increase a vehicle’s ground clearance; this is more commonly accomplished by either raising the vehicle’s suspension through the replacement of leaf spring blocks or by the placement of coil spacers. There are a few different types of suspension lifts to choose from:
- Spring Over Axle Suspension Lift Kits require you to weld new perches on the top of your axles and are popular among serious rock crawlers, these kits provide the most articulation and maximum traction.
- Torsion Keys are for vehicles with torsion bar suspension. Torsion Keys twist to accommodate the weight of the load, they do not add to your truck’s spring pre-load, and give you a smoother ride.
- Shackle Reverse Suspension Lift Kits are designed to offer a smooth ride on moderate terrains because they reverse the pivot point so that it is in front of your axles; this allows the front suspension to be much more natural.
- Shackle Suspension Lift Kits a longer shackle will lift your vehicle half of the extra length, these kits are more for vehicles with leaf spring suspension that use the highway than off-roading vehicles.
- Lifted Spring Suspension Lifts are designed to offer great control on rough terrain, they add a small lift and are better used to bring sagging springs back to stock height, these kits can be used with leaf spring suspensions and offer you more camber.
Another popular form of lifting is to combined leveling kits and body kits; this gives you the benefits of a suspension lift without having to actually alter your suspension, and at a fraction of the cost. Leveling kits slightly raise the front suspension of the vehicle so it matches the stock height in the back. Like suspension lifts, leveling kits come in a variety:
- Block Kits are for vehicles with leaf springs and are the preferred method of altering the ride height of the rear end of a vehicle, for a rear-high stance or for putting the rake back in your truck for hauling/towing.
- Strut Extensions are for vehicles that have a coilover strut in the front suspension, these leveling kits apply a spacer on top of a factory strut, and this will not require any other modification to your factory parts.
- Coil Spacers these kits are similar to strut extensions; only the spacer is added to the top of factory spring buckets, they also provide unbeatable ride quality, comfort and excellent articulation on the open trails.
WHAT ARE THEY USED FOR?
If you’re looking to jack your vehicle to Jesus than a suspension lift is your ticket. Suspension lifts can go as high as your pockets are deep. These lifts also make your vehicle’s suspension more articulate and give that added ground clearance all of our outdoor enthusiasts out their love.
Body lifts are great for vehicles that see extensive street/highway use. A body lift will raise your ride height, without altering the original suspension geometry of your vehicle, or your brakes, shocks, tires and anything else that came on your vehicle from the factory. This means you can keep your stock tires or upgrade them to give you a little more ground clearance.
Leveling kits are more commonly used for trucks that tow and haul. Most trucks come from the factory with a ‘raked’ stance, this just means that the rear of the truck sits slightly higher than the front, which helps prevent bottoming out in the rear with heavy loads. These kits can also help with a heavy winch or plow in the front of your vehicle; they won’t affect payload capacity and will not void your warranty.
Which is Right for Me?
I don’t know about you, but when I think about lift kits I think of big jacked up trucks out rednecking around in the mud or trying to climb a mountain at an inverted angle, however, lift kits are used for more than just off-roading. Ground clearance is a big motivation for lifting a vehicle, now this can be very beneficial when off-roading but it can also help with things as simple as working in the backfield. A higher clearance will allow you to haul and tow without damaging the undercarriage of your vehicle. Along with increased performance off-road, increasing ground clearance gives your vehicle that tough ‘I dare you’ look.
Typically a lift kit is going to give your vehicle a higher ground clearance than a leveling kit, however a body lift does not, but they will allow for more space under your frame for larger tires, which will allow higher ground clearance. With suspension lifts the sky is the limit, you can obtain the most clearance with these kits, because you can have one customized to say 18 inches or taller if you have the dough to spend. Leveling kits only go up about 3 inches and only raise your clearance in the front.
Body lifts and leveling kits are like one-stop shops, once you’ve purchased and installed the kit you’re good to go. These kits allow you to keep all stock parts and will not require any major modifications, and they will both allow for larger tires. Body lifts can run anywhere between $100-$800 and leveling kits cost anywhere between $30-$500, all depending on vehicle type and lift height.
Suspension lifts, on the other hand, may require you to replace additional parts on your vehicles, such as brake lines, shocks, and tires. The kit itself will run you anywhere between $100-$3,000 not to mention mechanic fees if you choose not to install the kit yourself. Depending on how high you lift your vehicle you may also be replacing things like ball joints sooner than anticipated due to the added stress the lift will put on them.
If you aren’t familiar with a metal cutting saw or the thought of having to shave off pieces of your bumper makes your stomach churn, I suggest consulting your local mechanic. Now this is not to say that it is impossible to DIY these kits, most manufacturers send detailed instructions to aid in the installation process, and each kit has its own difficulty level, ranging from I can do this over the weekend too, maybe I should go to a mechanic.
Body Lifts- Moderate
Body lifts are very time consuming because you have to lift the whole frame. Additionally, these kits may require you to add a few new notches, some trimming and maybe even some welding. This process is not only very time consuming but the end result will make your vehicles frame more visible, this can be fixed with gap/bumper guards.
Suspension Lifts- Expert
There might be fewer pieces in a suspension lift, but the required tools list is enough to make any skilled mechanic wince. Not to mention the extensive tear down for the desired lift up, you will need to remove the differential and driveshaft and then cut the differential mount, the frame and trim a few parts as well.
Leveling Kits- Easy
Leveling kits are relatively simple compared to their counterparts. For this install you can put your metal cutting saw away all you’re going to need are a few wrenches and a hammer.
Why would you want to lift or level your vehicle, you ask? The simply southern answer is bigger tires, of course. Actually it might be a little more complicated than that; however, each one of these kits will allow you to upgrade to a larger set of tires. How big, you ask? Well that all depends on just how high you choose to lift your vehicle, but we can give you a pretty good idea:
A two-inch lift kit or leveling kit could give you enough room for 32″-33″ tires and a three-inch body lift could give you enough room for up to 35″ tires! If you’re thinking about a suspension lift, then you can just go down your local tire shop and order the biggest set of tires they make, we’re talking monster truck big.
Some people just like the way a jacked-up vehicle with big tires looks, however sometimes this look has its downsides. Center of gravity is something all vehicles have however the higher you jack it up the higher its center of gravity gets. A higher center of gravity increases your vehicles chance of body roll and loss of traction on turns.
Suspension lifts allow you to have a big jacked up truck with monster tires and offers you an adequate workout. Climbing in and out of your truck could become quite annoying when jacked too high, especially if you have little ones. Also, suspension lifts may void your vehicle’s warranty, depending on where you live and how high you choose to go.
Body lifts are all about that look, no treble. Body lifts may not offer any performance advantages but they are a less expensive way to lift your vehicle and allow larger tires.
A big complaint among leveling kits, is the minimal effect they have on the look of trucks since it only levels them out, so if you want something a little more dramatic I’d suggest a lift kit. However, leveling kits to help with the added weight of a winch and when combined with a body lift gives you that nice-looking lifted vehicle with minimal damage to your wallet and change in your OEM.
Just to sum things up, lift kits are more for our off-road enthusiasts whose pockets are a little deeper than the average Joe’s, whereas leveling kits are more for looks or helping out with a heavy winch. Each one of these kits can be used separately or you can combine them for an optimal lift at minimal cost, also these kits will all offer you some extra room under the frame for those larger tires you’ve had your eye on.
While all suspension lifts, body lifts, and leveling kits have their pros and their cons they could be a great addition to what’s sitting in your garage. Whether you’re looking to give your Jeep that little extra edge out on the road or wanting to upgrade your rock crawler to take on some next level trails or if you just want to level out your work truck, we hope we’ve equipped you with the knowledge needed to make the choice between a lift kit or a leveling kit, or at least given you some nice pictures to look at.
Want to learn more about body lifts and suspension lifts? Check out our Body Lift V. Suspension Lift post!
* It is recommended to get your vehicle aligned after installation.